Extend your reach through partnership

Developing a partnership with a local holistic pet supply store can benefit your practice in several important ways. 

Did you know your local holistic pet store or health food store can help you improve client relations, extend the reach of your practice and address client compliance? Already part of your clients’ pet care network, these potential business allies position themselves as resources to their customers. Above all else, these stores know your clients are consumers with decisive buying power and unlimited access to products and information in the growing pet industry.

Today’s clients, especially those seeking holistic care, are well-informed, more proactive in seeking health information, and no longer willing to be the veterinarian’s captive audience. Online access puts products and information at their fingertips, social media and personal connections are proven influencers – and local specialty and holistic pet stores offer relationships and personal services.

Whether veterinarians approve or not, pet industry sales demonstrate that clients are seeking alternatives to traditional veterinary product outlets. Partnering with your local holistic pet or health food store may open new opportunities for your practice, your clients, your bottom line, and the community.

Use influencers to your advantage

Pet food companies, pharmacies, web stores, brick and mortar stores, and lifestyle services invest heavily in attracting and persuading your clients. The US pet product retailing market has never been more competitive, placing your clients in the driver’s seat. The desire for premium products and the client’s emotional involvement in purchase decisions show that today’s pet owner is willing to invest in the health care and even indulgence of her pet.

Clients shop through different channels for a variety of reasons: convenience, brands, store rewards and price. While price isn’t always the bottom line, price shopping is on the rise, and is an increasing challenge to community stores. Understanding your clients’ purchase decisions (see sidebar on page 64), and what steps are involved in shaping those decisions, may help you reduce your time and overhead requirements.

A resource destination

Although holistic pet supply stores began to appear in the early 1990s, it wasn’t until the massive pet food recall of 2007 that the concept was embraced and a surge of holistic stores emerged to meet customer demands.

The success of a holistic pet supply store is based on its competitive edge in the market. This requires the store to become a destination resource, offering premium, innovative and environmentally-safe products, product knowledge, and value added service. It requires qualified personnel and a store philosophy that takes the time to educate clients – which means the store can be a valuable asset to you, your clients, and the community. To protect their competitive edge, these stores work with manufacturers to offer products not available in mass-market stores, along with price competitive buying programs, and also work to support their animal-strong community.

5 benefits of a partnership

1. Client access

The holistic pet supply store sees your client a minimum of 12 times a year. In some cases, the client will visit her preferred local pet store once a week. A key tool in advertising is frequency, the number of times a consumer needs to be exposed to an advertisement to remember, respond to, or purchase a product. Typically, a customer needs to be exposed to a product seven times in order to become motivated enough to even think about purchasing it.

Consider this when you think about how often and by which methods you communicate with clients beyond their yearly wellness checkup reminders. Does your local holistic pet supply store display your brochure? What about offering ways to have your clinic’s information included in the store’s ongoing promotions?

2. Client relationships

These stores know your clients by name and/or their pets’ names, and even know some of their personal history – sometimes too much. They know who follows your protocols and who adds their own treatments. More importantly, though, they have the ability to extend the reach of your clinic and reinforce your role in the care of that client’s pet. Clients value trusted referrals and appreciate a support network or team approach.

One of the greatest opportunities a partnership can offer is to help educate clients on a more integrative approach. Have you offered to give talks at the store, or invited store staff and/or their customers for a tour? Maybe you could share a case study in their newsletter, showing your collaboration.

Another thing to keep in mind: when you know your clients will be buying products at other locations, it is a good idea to advise them to first let the store’s staff know how their animals are being treated for any conditions.

3. Product traceability

When was the last time your client returned a product? Specialty stores take note of what products are returned, why they are returned, and how the manufacturer responds to product complaints.

These stores are also the first to know about unlabeled changes in foods and products, through client comments and feedback. Creating an up-to-date reference on adverse product issues and sharing concerns helps support your clients in making better decisions and will save you time, frustration and maybe your patients’ health.

4. Product knowledge

Clients want the latest and best for their pets. Product knowledge goes beyond the items on the shelf, beyond knowing the manufacturer, sourcing, and quality controls. Understanding the product’s application, contraindications and limitations, and knowing how to help the client choose what is best for her pet, is vital.

5. Industry knowledge

Pre-empting the newest trends requires researching the industries that are in turn influencing the pet industry, including environmental issues, cosmetics, human health and natural foods, regulatory issues and safety. You are busy enough staying current with the many treatment modalities you offer, so let your pet store ally help you and your clients in these areas.

Clients seek information destinations either through brick and mortar locations or online. Help guide their need to know, and their advocacy, by being proactive in generating resources that partner with you in furthering your patients’ health care. Recognize that your role can be pivotal, but understand that it is also weighed, evaluated and compared against the client’s consumer experiences. Acknowledge your client’s decision-making and consumer behavior and use them to your advantage. Develop strategies to help shape purchases, enforce client care compliance, reduce your frustrations, and help your patients to healthy well-being.

Acknowledge that veterinary clients and pet store customers are not mutually exclusive. Developing partnerships with holistic pet supply stores can extend the reach of your care, enhance the positioning of your exclusive veterinary products, and possibly protect a valuable community resource. Better yet, you have the opportunity to introduce your clients to holistic and integrative care approaches through a network within the community. Not to mention you can reduce your clinic’s time and inventory investments, allowing for the expansion of your range of specialty services.

Understanding your clients and consumer behavior

Clients come from many walks of life and their decisions are influenced by a range of factors, such as ethnicity, gender, lifestyle, experience and age. Currently, women influence 80% of consumer purchases in the US. The female shopper requires in-depth information, handholding, attention to detail and even resource relationships. Male shoppers, on the other hand, seek solutions, minimal interaction, and often rely only on written guidance. Looking ahead, the diversity of the next generation of pet owners is shifting, bringing new opportunities for innovative communications relating to products and services.

“Often a client comes in looking for a natural remedy for their pet’s health issue, and it’s not until I ask a number of questions that they admit they are under the care of a homeopathic veterinarian. If we had sold a recommendation without knowing this information, we could have interfered with the therapy. Not to mention we could have been seen as irresponsible by the veterinarian. I’ve had this happen repeatedly with drugs and supplements. So it often falls on our shoulders to help clients understand and navigate holistic health care.”  – Pet store owner

After a highly recognized, high protein, low carbohydrate brand was re-launched in new glamorous packaging, the extensive formula and guaranteed analysis changes went unnoticed until health issues surfaced, including dramatic weight loss and seizures.” – Online retailer

Many clients are referred for food therapy recommendations, i.e. Cooling or Warming. With commercial foods it’s not that simple to recommend a specific protein. Unless your client can read a pet food label to understand that while the protein in the food is Cooling, the balance of the formula is Warming, your food recommendations are not going to be fulfilled.” – Store staff